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Senate blocks municipalities reform

Owain Johnston-Barnes, Sarah Lagan

The Senate rejected last night an Act designed to axe the corporations of Hamilton and St George and turn them into unelected quangos.

It was the first vote defeat for the Progressive Labour Party since it won power in July 2017.

Joan Dillas-Wright, the Senate president, told the Upper House she supported the concept of modernisation of the municipalities, but that the legislation needed more thought.

Ms Dillas-Wright highlighted that the Government had agreed to create a separate municipalities Act for St George.

She said that meant that the Government's plans for the two corporations were still evolving, but the Act the Senate had to consider treated them both the same way.

She added: “I'm not saying it's not needed — I'm saying I have an issue right now.”

Ms Dillas-Wright said she was also concerned that the Act would breach the concept that there should be no taxation without representation and questioned the level of public support for the change.

She added: “If you want the people to be supportive, then they must be given all the information.

Ms Dillas-Wright said that she had the casting vote and used it to block the Act because she expected separate legislation for St George and that she believed the legislation should have been withdrawn or amended.

She added: “The other reason is I do believe that the residents should choose their mayor — taking away the vote from them was just wrong.”

Senators debated the controversial Act on Wednesday but did not take a vote.

The legislation was passed last week in the House of Assembly,

The three independent senators, including Ms Dillas-Wright, combined with the three One Bermuda Alliance to vote down the five-strong Progressive Labour Party government group.

The move will delay the implementation of the legislation for a year.

James Jardine and Michelle Simmons, both independents, sided with Nick Kempe, Marcus Jones and Dwayne Robinson, of the One Bermuda Alliance, to block the Municipalities Reform Act 2019.

Mr Robinson said after the vote: “Reason has prevailed over rhetoric. There was no way that the Bill was going to pass with the argument that was put forward by the Government — it was emotive but not much substance.

“They need to have further discussions with the mayors. It was brought up that they have an issue with the election system of the Corporation of Hamilton being favourable to those who are rich and white so if they wish to get that Bill passed they need to, along with the corporation, update and modernise that election process.

“That way it becomes more appealing and people keep their democratic right to elect their municipal representative.”

Mr Jardine added: “I was pleased with the outcome. The Government raised some good points but, on balance, we have preserved some degree of democracy in the city and in the town of St George and that is healthy.

“The residents and the businesses in the city pay taxes — $8.6m worth of taxes — and therefore they should have some representation around the table.”

Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said after the decision: “We are encouraged by what developed in the Senate and will meet among ourselves shortly to discuss how best the corporation can meet its challenges moving forward.”

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said: “The result in the Senate represents a victory for the status quo, but while municipality reform has been delayed, it will not be denied.

“The Government is committed to municipal reform and is determined to see the vision for Hamilton and St George become a reality.”

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Published March 23, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated March 23, 2019 at 1:37 am)

Senate blocks municipalities reform

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